Friday, March 31, 2006


Interesting show last night (Thursday 30th) with an interview by Tony Nicholls with Peter Stokes of the Saltshakers.

Tony’s naïve and wide eyed – but cunning – charm worked it’s magic and Stokes was remarkably revealing. Some bizarre theology: when asked that old chestnut – if you obey the bible literally then do you eat shellfish and wear polycotton (if you don’t know the story, they’re some of things Leviticus calls abominations, along with men having sex together), Stokes said you had to know how to read your bible.

If a rule was only mentioned in the bible once – like the shellfish and the mixed fibres ones – then that rule was specific to the time and situation for which the passage was written. These two, he claimed, were for a specific time and place – when the Isrealites were wandering in the desert.

Leaving aside the question of where you find lobsters in a desert, he passed on to homosexuality. He claimed this prohibition, by contrast, was inherent throughout the bible, and thus remained valid.

He also said it was obvious that men and women were designed by God to fit together – tell that to a child with no sex education – whereas gay men used what he called “the sewerage system”.

Now that’s a curious one: all sex takes place in and around the sewerage system – unless I’ve been getting it wrong all my life and ought to have been peeing through my nose. And given all the above it’s obvious Stokes puts his arse to some unintended uses too, so to speak.

So far, so predictable.

Audience reaction: mixed. At first quite a lot of “why are you giving this guy airtime”, “get this shit off our station” and so forth. I took time out to explain the (biblical) notion of ‘know thine enemy’ – and his ilk are influential and their nonsense is believed even within our government.

A US journalist friend could not believe this audience reaction: he said on his radio station he always gave opponents more than 50% of the time, because unless you understand that they exist, how they think, expose their prejudices, how can you counter them? Beside, he said, journalism is about controversy: we’re not here to “blow sunshine and bubbles up the listeners skirts.” Amen and hallelujah to that!

Anyway, back to Stokesy.

I always have trouble with people who claim literal and absolute truth for the bible.

For a start, it isn’t A Book – it’s a limited selection of the available manuscripts on the subject of the Jewish, and later Christian, religion. There are many many more that didn’t make it into the collection. Early in the church’s history, a bunch of male bishops decided what to keep and what to toss, according to the political requirements of the day, the state of historical and theological scholarship etc.. So from the start the enterprise was fatally compromised.

Then there’s the question of the manuscripts themselves.

All the bible stories stem from oral tradition. That is, for hundreds if not thousands of years, they were not written down, only memorized and spoken. So over time, changes and distortions crept in. Mishearings, a desire to tell a better, more gripping story, embellishments to hold the audience’s interest. Over and over again, over hundreds and hundreds of years.

Then the stories started to be written down. No printing presses, so copies had to be made by hand. More errors and embellishments. Plus, of course, different tribes might have different versions, in different languages. Not all these versions have survived, so how can we vouch for the ‘authenticity’ of what we have? We can’t.

And all the way along, new stories were being written and circulated. Sometimes in places and societies very different to those that gave rise to previous stories, with different understandings of the meaning of things, the relations between men and women, for example, or the role of a leader.

That’s the reason why, if you search the bible diligently enough, you can find stories to support both sides of an argument, not just one.

It’s hard for the layperson to spot his stuff in the Old Testament, but it becomes glaringly obvious in the New – have you never noticed that the four gospels give different accounts? That’s because they were written at different times: all of them long after Jesus was dead.

Did you know that St Paul, on whose writings most of the Christian religion is founded, never met Jesus?

And if all that wasn’t enough to place the claim of literal truth in serious doubt, then consider this. None of the stuff you read in the bible was originally written in English.

Most of it has been translated many times through several different languages. A story in the bible may have first been written in, say Aramaic, then later translated into Hebrew, the Hebrew version translated into Greek, the Greek into Latin, the Latin into early English, then into Modern English. Even now, when we try to go back and reconstruct the ‘original’ version (which, if you remember what I was saying before about oral traditions, won’t be very original at all), we probably don’t have a copy of the Hebrew or Aramaic versions, only the Greek. Or only the Latin. Or perhaps a copy of the Latin version made by an Egyptian scribe . . . . . you see the difficulty?

We’ve only recently discovered, for example, that the famous phrase about passing a camel through the eye of a needle should in fact read, a rope through the eye of a needle. A bit of ink on a manuscript had faded, changing the meaning of a word. X-rays revealed what was originally there.

So it is quite literally impossible to say that what we read in our bible today bears a true resemblance to what the original writer intended. And that’s before we even start to contemplate cultural differences. Think of all the Australian phrases that have to be explained to other people. No other culture has furphys or dummy-spits. No-one else says ‘on the nose’. The word ‘ordinary’ just means ‘plain and unremarkable’ in anyone else’s English – and nothing else. So we can’t be sure what we read means what it sounds as if it means. Not ‘a sure guide to deeds’ at all.

I have digressed somewhat – back to the programme.

The latter half of the show – the only bit of it I now produce as well as present – is a panel discussion. I gathered two gay priests, the Rev Heather Creighton of the Metropolitan Community Church, and Rev Fr Greg Horn of the Ecumenical Catholic Church. And we had an excellent discussion in which we placed Stokes in his proper context and discussed some of the above, and much else besides. Audience reaction swung round as people understood what we were attempting to do.

This panel business is so different from what I used to do – the old show was tightly scripted and controlled, mostly pre-recorded. Now I’m learning to manage people in real time on air. Daunting at times but fun.

Off next week as the Young Australians take over. I shall listen with interest.

Thursday, March 30, 2006

"We have failed," says AIDS Spokesperson

IN THE wake of the surge in HIV infections, disagreements have broken out in the AIDS sector on what has gone wrong and how to put it right.

Respected AIDS expert Dr Jonathan Anderson of the Carlton Clinic has written to Bronwyn Pike, Victorian Health Minister, suggesting a shake-up of the Victorian Aids Council that would see VicHealth take over some the VAC’s key functions.

While acknowledging the excellent work done by VAC in the past, he says, “Much of the education and prevention budget is spent on program staff and administration, rather than direct campaigns.”

And he also says a review two years ago, which identified changes that need to be made, has still not been implemented. And he said the problem isn’t just a lack of funds.

“If they can’t get additional funding from government they need to work out whether they can go ahead . . . within existing budgets. They were told two and half years ago that there were some programs that needed to be pared back, some could stand on their own or were being provided elsewhere, and some needed to be expanded to face the new changed environment.”

“Have they made those hard decisions?” he asked, “ I believe that if we waste money that is much worse than not having money in the first place.”

He suggests the VAC be split into a services and support community health agency, and a separate community representation agency, while their health education and promotion work should be taken over by VicHealth.

“What I’m saying is that I think we have an opportunity here in Victoria. We just happen to have Vic Health, which just happens to be one of the world’s best, if not the best, health promotion agency, so my suggestion is a constructive one.”

He dismissed objections that health education and promotion should be done by groups within the gay community.

“Certainly the programs need to be delivered by your peers at the local level, but that doesn’t stop the actual agency that’s commissioning the work and co-ordinating the whole program not being among the peers,” he said.

“If you look at the VicHealth website they’re doing tons of programs, and if they’re doing one for Somali women, for example, they’re funding Somali women to run programs.”

He said that VicHealth was a well funded body running very efficient and effective programs. And he pointed to the increasing acceptance of gays and lesbians in the mainstream in other areas, saying, why not in health promotion too?

“It’s changing nowadays . . we are more accepted in the wider world, we don’t necessarily need to rely on the gay community for everything. Which is why I argue that we should start to claim our part in the mainstream in terms of health promotion, too. Why aren’t we using the best mainstream health promotion agency in the world? Why don’t we?”

Sources within the HIV positive community said all the organisations involved had to face the fact that, “Whether we like it or not, we’ve failed. If our brief is to minimise infections in this state, we’ve failed. Now we have to say, what have we done wrong (?) and we must look for new ways to tackle the problem.

Mike Kennedy, CEO of the Victorian AIDS Council, said, “I don’t think we can talk about this in terms of success or failure. It’s not a useful way to have this discussion.”

Dr Anderson said the problem was that an organisation that tries to do everything may be unable to focus on the key things that need to be done. The VAC has been trying to be a jack of all trades he said, and when you do that, you lose focus.

But he was at pains to stress, “This is not about the VAC. This is about people not getting HIV/AIDS. If we look at the rates of unprotected sex, we don’t see any drop or flattening of the rates…if anything, it’s increasing. That’s the figure that matters. Let’s try and work out whether we can spend the scarce resources that are available in the best way to maximise health. That’s all I really care about.”

Reversing The Trend

FEATURE Melbourne Star – MAR 30 2006

Last issue of Melbourne Star we reported a significant spike in new HIV infection rates. Dr Jonathon Anderson from Carlton Clinic wants reform of the Victorian AIDS Council (VAC) but that’s just the tip of the iceberg.

HIV infections have been rising slowly but steadily since at least 2000, and the latest statistics show a big jump. Dr Jonathan Anderson has called for many of Victorian AIDS Council’s functions to go to Vic Health instead (see front page). But not everyone - and especially not Mike Kennedy, CEO of the VAC – agrees. Greg Iverson, President of People Living with HIV/AIDS Victoria (PLWHA), says a lack of funding is the problem. On the other hand, Sean Slavin, researcher with the Australian Research Centre in Sex Health and Society (ARCSHS), says the kind of big budget campaigns seen in Sydney wouldn’t work in Melbourne.

Mike Kennedy, CEO of the VAC disagreed with both analyses.

“Jonathan’s contribution is starting at the wrong end,” he said. “The discussion Jonathan has started is about who should be doing it. The discussion about funding is, we need more money to do it. We need to agree what this it is before we start talking about who is going to do it, or whether we need more money for it.”

Sean Slavin, of the Australian Research Centre in Sex Health and Society (ARCSHS), doubted that big public campaigns like those run by AIDS Council of New South Wales (ACON) could work.

“The Melbourne gay community is quite dispersed geographically and culturally. It isn’t anywhere near as coherent as the Sydney gay scene, and that does present some particular challenges for health education in Melbourne. There’s much more of a sense of identification around gay identity and institutions in Sydney.”

Slavin, who is normally based in Sydney, identified another difference campaigns would need to address. He said that positive men in Melbourne had a much harder time disclosing their HIV status to potential partners.

“From what I’ve seen, rejection would be the mildest outcome,” he said. “They also run the risk of some fairly strident stigma being thrown at them.”

So if the leading organisations and individuals involved in fighting HIV/AIDS can’t agree, who will sort out the mess? Mike Kennedy reckons Health Minister Bronwyn Pike needs to step in and take a leadership role, get everyone together to sort through the options and make the decisions.

Kennedy said the funding would be there if the community could make a case for it.

“I’m not suggesting we do another inquiry, it doesn’t need months and months of work. But’ve got to get the policy stuff right first,” he said. “You’ve got to mount the business case, and... when we’ve been able to do that effectively, government has found the money..”

Greg Iverson of PLWHA said that while he didn’t always agree with the VAC – in particular there were strong objections to the Staying Negative campaign – in this case they were right. Funding was the major problem. But he also thought that over the longer term the need for dedicated AIDS groups would fade away.

“This... trend is already happening,” he said. “Linkages have been established between AIDS councils and Hepatitis C councils. We’ve already got a gay and lesbian section in our health department – the only one in the country that does. Where does that leave the VAC? They need to ponder that.”

Dangerous Liaisons

While organisations, bureaucrats and activists wrangle, new infections continue to occur, because some dangerous myths are leading men to make high-risk decisions that increase their risk of getting HIV.

Unprotected sex – sex without a condom – also referred to as raw or bareback sex – is on the rise. That doesn’t mean that gay men are recklessly deciding the risk of HIV is worth the feel of skin-on-skin. Instead they are experimenting with a range of strategies to try and have unprotected sex safely.

Drugs, Drink and Sex-on-Site

A study of 15 newly infected HIV positive men in Melbourne, by the Australian Research Centre in Sex Health and Society, found that most of the men became infected while bottoming unprotected – half of them at a sex-on-site venue or beat. And “drugs and/or alcohol featured in the risk incidents” for most of the men in the sample.

Don’t Assume

Researcher Sean Slavin said the study also showed that positive men often assume that when a prospective partner offers unprotected sex, he is positive too. Negative men, on the other hand, assume he’s negative. Either way the false assumption leads to risky sex.

This is what’s known as sero-sorting – trying to reduce your risk by only having unprotected sex with partners of the same HIV status as yourself. The problem is, it’s not possible to have unprotected sex safely with a casual partner in any circumstances.

Sero-Sorting – Positive Guys

If you’re both positive, there is still the danger of other sexually transmitted infections, such as chlamydia, and syphilis, which are fast rising in the gay community. These are a major problem for people whose immune systems are already challenged. Mike Kennedy of the Victorian AIDS Council, says, “Particularly gruesome complications can arise from being HIV positive and having syphilis.”

Sero-Sorting – Negative Guys

In a casual context, you can never be sure that you’re both negative. Greg Iverson of People Living with HIV AIDS says you can never call yourself negative unless you’ve had an HIV test, “and what’s more, unless you had the test yesterday.” Otherwise your status is not negative, it’s unknown. In other words, sero-sorting is not going to protect you.

The Joys Of Monogamy

The only time when it’s safer – not safe – to have unprotected sex with a partner is within a monogamous committed relationship. But even that’s not simple. The VAC publishes guidelines on the web called Talk-Test-Test-Trust - Details:

In short, while community organisations try to decide what they should do next, we as individuals need to look at some the assumptions we’ve made that have resulted in some of us becoming infected.

In the meantime, as the party season gets under way, remember to play safe.

Thursday, March 16, 2006


Well, another Melbourne Star out today – 16th March – and another Rainbow Report on air tonight.

Yes, I’m back on Joy Melbourne 94.9 every Thursday evening 7.00 – 8.00 pm AEST with a completely new show.

I now have a full support team, including an Executive Producer, station News Director Tim Lennox.

In the first 40 minutes of the show I introduce items by other contributors, while the last 20 minutes is a discussion panel.

A feature of the show is a provocative opinion piece broadcast early in the show – audience response then provides material for the later discussion.

The first show last week went reasonably well – let’s see how we do tonight, especially as the Commonwealth Games are on (and traffic/parking is horrendous).

Saturday, March 04, 2006

Return of the native

Picked up the latest MCV (Friday 3rd March) and breathed a HUGE sigh of relief – they’re back on form again. Over the last couple of months they seemed to have turned into some weird corporate brochure, with pseudo-manga covers and news downgraded to filler status, but THEY’RE BACK!! Hooray!

I’m intrigued at the letters/editorial stoush over the chicks’n’dicks crew they turned out for Pride and Carnival. Perhaps this rather ill-judged attempt at importing Sydney Mardi-Gras style sex’n’sleaze – not that there’s anything wrong with that – is now over.

Personally I’ve no objection to scantily-clad models sashaying around in public, but they stuck out at the aforementioned events like a sore bum. Soo not Melbourne, darlings. Mind you, some of the community reaction seems just a tad hypocritical.

Pride’s a MARCH, lovies, as they will tell you (at tedious self-justifying length) not a PARADE. We’re Melbourne, it’s tasteless, bad form or something to actually mention the SEX in homoSEXuality. We’re frightfully respectable chaps and chapesses nowadays, don’t you know, these are FAMILY events, people brought their kids, for heaven’s sake. I don’t want my kids exposed to female BREASTS at Carnival!!!!

Hang on a minute, weren’t some of the Dykes on Bykes at Pride, as tradition dictates, bare-breasted? What did you do when they went roaring by? Drop a burkah over the stroller?

Oh, it’s only COMMERCIAL titties you object to - you don’t mind COMMUNITY dugs on display. Or your own while you’re proudly (and rightly) publicly breastfeeding the aforementioned sprogs. Glad we cleared that one up.

Not being a breast man myself, I just smiled indulgently when the MCVettes dropped their tops and turned my attention to the boys. And boys is the word. Shouldn’t they have been at school? Probably a convent school, to judge by the shrieking and giggling?

My only objection is that they were – I’m trying to say this kindly – a bit underdeveloped. When the cabin crew sashay down the aisle, asking, “Chicken, fish or beef?” I’ll take beef every time. And I’ll always choose the steak over the ribs. But everyone to his or her own taste.

At any rate, it seemed distinctly odd for a self-styled community newspaper to promo itself as if it were a porn mag. But as I said, judging by the latest edition, they’re getting over it. Melbourne has two gay newspapers again. And HOORAY for that.

A real gay cowboy

Thank you, Sydney Morning Herald

Thursday, March 02, 2006


After Melbourne Star went to press, I spoke to Queensland Liberal MP Warren Entsch about his plans to introduce a Private Members Bill to tackle discrimination against same sex couples.

He wants to look at issues of equity, but won’t address marriage and adoption because, as he candidly admits, that would bring the churches down on him. He also pointed out that equitable treatment has some downsides eg Centrelink payments - but that’s equality.

That was Roxon’s excuse for not addressing couple-related discrimination at this time: she claimed that since there would be some losses for gay couples if their relationship was recognized, change needed to be managed to ensure that these were brought in at the same time as compensating gains.

“I’ll be writing to all my colleagues to point out these inequalities,” said Entsch, “they say its all fixed up with super and the ADF but that’s just scratching the surface. “

Strictly Practical

“Exactly how we tackle it, whether with some kind of national recognition system or by recognising what’s in place in the states (except South Australia) I don’t know at this stage.”

He focusing on the strictly practical: “What you need is some kind of formal recognition document that triggers the same processes that a marriage certificate triggers for heterosexuals. Don’t care what we call it. Just stay away from marriage to keep the churches out of it.”

Entsch has met with members of the Australian Coalition for Equality and says he will be working with them on the proposed bill.

Lot’s of Liberal support?

Entsch claimed he already had the support of a surprisingly large number of colleagues, though none would go on the record at this stage until they had seen the details of his proposals.

“Some Liberals say its against Liberal policy and philosophy, but I point out to them, it was Liberals who got rid of the white Australia policy, got aboriginal rights and women’s rights, and decriminalized homosexuality.”

Why you?

I asked him why, with his rather roughneck heterosexual reputation, would take on such a battle.

“I have some very dear friends in Queensland who’ve been together for 27 years,” he said, “and accept them socially and personally as a couple in every way. My 12 yr old son is great friends with them and always wants to know when we’re going to spend time with them. How could I accept them privately and then come to this place and pretend that their relationship was something less than it is? There’s a word for that. It’s ‘hypocrisy.’”

He said he’d had a great deal of response from the public, most of it positive, with only five correspondents against – and they were focused on ‘the sex angle’.

It’s not about the sex,” he said, “I’m not interested in the sex, blokes parading in the Mardi Gras with feathers up their bums. It's not about that. It’s about fairness and equity before the law.”

Labor Window-Dressing

Entsch is convinced that Nicola Roxon’s proposed bill – which will not address any of the issues relating to couples - has been generated by the stand he’s taking - a desire not to be left behind. “She’s not dealing with the real issues it’s just window dressing. Talking the talk but not walking the walk: these anti-discrimination and harassment measures she’s talking about are already there,” he told me.

And he may be right. The day after I asked Roxon if she would work with the Liberals to secure a conscience vote on these issues, creating a bipartisan approach similar to that which wrested abortion pill RU486 from Tony Abbott’s control, I received the following:

Nicola Roxon MP
Shadow Attorney-General
Tanya Plibersek MP
Member for Sydney


Labor recommits to gay and lesbian law reform

This week the Labor Caucus endorsed a plan to actively campaign on gay and lesbian law reform and pursue the Howard Government on its failure to make good its promises.

As part of Labor’s campaign, Nicola Roxon will introduce a private members’ bill to combat discrimination, harassment and incitement to violence based on sexuality or gender identity. Parliament needs to send a strong message that homophobic violence, intimidation and discrimination are unacceptable.

Labor will also step up pressure on the Howard Government to fulfil its promise to end discrimination against same sex couples in the area of public sector superannuation.

Further, we have committed to making sure that same sex couples are included when the Family Court jurisdiction is extended to cover property disputes of de facto couples, a change which is expected this year. The Howard Government has indicated that it will limit the extension to heterosexual couples, leaving same sex couples the stress and expense of negotiating both state and federal courts in the event of family break-up.

Labor will commence consultation on the models for a system of formal recognition of same sex relationships, such as civil unions. We look forward to discussing this issue with gay and lesbian groups across Australia.

Federal Labor looks forward to building on our achievements and working constructively with the LGBT community to bring an end to discrimination.

Wednesday, 1 March 2006

Gay & Lesbian Liaison Offficers (II)

Following my front page story In Melbourne Star last issue (Cops Lose their GLLOs) Victoria Police acknowledge that the program is in trouble, and are trying to decide where they go from here.

In direct response to our revelations, the full-time GLLO for Region 4 (covering areas such as Monash, Knox, Whitehorse and Boorondara) will now remain in post at least until April, and a new volunteer GLLO has been appointed to cover the LaTrobe Valley in Region 5.

The Equal Opportunity Commission, the Victorian AIDS Council, the Rainbow Network and the ALSO Foundation, are all writing to Chief Commissioner Christine Nixon, and asking for explanations.

The gay and lesbian liaison officer program was begun because so many crimes against gays and lesbians, especially domestic violence and sexual assaults, went unreported.

The GLLO mission statement says “The Gay and Lesbian Mission is to contribute to the creation of mutual trust between police, lesbians, gay men, bisexuals, transgender and intersex persons so that they may have increasing confidence in police through the provisions of fair and equitable policing service.”

But Melbourne Star has spoken to several serving gay and lesbian police officers, who paint a disturbing picture of a program struggling to survive in the face of a hostile culture, especially in the middle levels of the command structure.

The officers allege that people without appropriate qualifications and little or no interest in the job are sometimes appointed. The function may be added to an officers existing responsibilities, but no additional resources are provided, and pro-active outreach to the GLBTI community is not sanctioned.

This creates a self-fulfilling prophecy. If the GLLO is unenthusiastic, with neither the resources, motivation or official sanction to build bridges with the community, crimes against gays and lesbians continue to go unrecorded in the statistics on which the police rely when deciding how best to use their resources. As a result a commander can argue that, since the statistics show little or no gay related crime, there is no need for a GLLO.

Melbourne Star has even heard of unsympathetic officers appointed as GLLOs because their commander ‘has no particular use’ for them, to encourage them to quit the force. These sorts of abuses arise where the program is run by “people whose heart isn’t in it,” according to one source.

The problem is not confined to Victoria – Surry Hills, one of Sydney’s largest police stations, right in the heart of the gay district, has been without a GLLO for three months. A temporary Mardi Gras Liaison Officer has been appointed, but there’s no sign of a permanent replacement.


The case of the two men who were bashed at Spring Street tram stop after Carnival illustrates exactly why we NEED gay and lesbian liaison officers.

The police who answered their 000 call told them to remain at the tram stop while they searched for the attackers.

But the couple, believing they had done everything necessary, and feeling unsafe remaining in the area, left.

When the police returned to the scene 20 minutes later to find them gone, they assumed the couple had decided not to take the matter further. So they made no official report.

So when the area GLLO, Senior Constable Danielle Cameron was contacted by the press for information, she could find no record.

However, by checking 000 calls she traced the officers involved, and the victims, persuading them to make the all-important official report, without which the police can’t launch an investigation.

The official report also ensures that the crime appears in the statistics, and as we have seen, if crime doesn’t show up in the stats, senior command don’t believe it’s happening, and don’t allocate resources to tackle it.

In a further twist, when Cameron tried to track the progress of the investigation, she discovered that data entry staff hadn’t ticked the box identifying it as a gay hate crime.

State GLLO Co-ordinator Sergeant Scott Davis is now trying to discover how often this might have happened in the past. If it turns out to be a common error, the statistics on which Victoria Police are basing their decisions about the future of GLLOs may well show anti-gay crime at a much lower level than it really is.

Wednesday, March 01, 2006


Two things:

First, our piece on GLLOs appears to be having an effect - I'll be posting more info here tomorrow when Melbourne Star is out - or you could pick up a copy!

And I'm recording a pilot Rainbow Report at the Joy studios on Friday - keep your fingers crossed and if all goes well I'll be back on air with a new-style 1 hour once a week show soon.......